To a true timepiece collector, no collection is complete without the addition of a vintage timepiece.
Much like vintage automobiles, a vintage timepiece not only is a part of a watch company’s heritage, but it also has a story to tell. At one point in time, that particular timepiece may have been owned by a Saudi prince, race car driver, or some important political figure. Even better – it may have even been owned by an ESM legend like Steve McQueen.
We here at ESM have an incredible fascination with the topic but admittedly know very little about the vintage timepiece industry.
Fortunately for us, James Lamdin recently reached out to ESM to promote his new business Analog/Shift (http://www.analogshift.com/). For those of you who aren’t in the know, Analog/Shift is an online store which sells highly curated vintage timepieces and they have been blowing up on the men’s style blog scene recently, with featured articles on Urban Daddy, Hodinkee, Longitude and A Blog to Watch.
We took this opportunity to ask him about the website as well as fill in the gaps for us vintage watch rookies.
Here’s what he had to say:
How did you get started with Analog/Shift?
I have long been an amateur watch collector and have had a number of friends who work in the timepiece industry professionally.
I worked for many years in the luxury automotive industry (which has a number of parallels to the timepiece industry), but last year decided I had enough of it. So I quit my job to take some time off and explore different career paths, one of which was working with timepieces. I started freelance writing on the subjects of vintage wristwatches for a few online magazines, and realized just how passionate I had become about them.
It seemed like my collecting/trading hobby was becoming an obsession.
I also had noticed an increasing number of fashion retailers and magazines using vintage goods in general to define a particular aesthetic, and I watched as some major retailers began selling vintage watches as fashion accessories for ridiculous prices, and realized that there was a burgeoning market for vintage timepieces as lifestyle enhancements for the stylish man – they weren’t the exclusive property of the collector crowd any longer.
I realized I had the connections to obtain the pieces, the resources to have them authenticated and serviced, and a desire to be a passionate source, so analog/shift was born.
Our goal is to provide exceptional vintage wristwatches, vetted and curated by our team, available for purchase through an online boutique.
Our prices are much more realistic than you’ll likely find elsewhere, and our collection is much smaller and more personal. We don’t like to consider ourselves a “dealer” in the traditional sense, and the way we do business reflects this.
As cliche’ as it sounds, we aren’t interested in selling anyone a watch – we want to help people buy them.
On your website, it mentions there are three of you who run Analog/Shift. Who are the other two partners and do each of you have different parts of the business you are responsible for?
Yes, analog/shift is a team of three.
When I decided to go for it, I approached two good friends about coming on board – John Muse and Aaron Kliner.
All three of us contribute to the operation of the company and in sourcing inventory. John is sort of the Obi Wan Kenobi of the team. He’s a watchmaker by trade and has been a “gentleman dealer” for over 25 years. He has forgotten more about vintage timepieces than I will probably ever learn. He’s currently based in Portland, Maine and is taking care of all our service, refurbishment, and authentication.
Aaron is an incredibly passionate collector with a great eye and sense of style. In my mind, he’s the one who keeps us looking good and sounding intelligent, HA!
Aaron and I are both based in Manhattan.
How do you find and curate the pieces that are on your website? Are there specific things in a timepiece you are looking for?
Our collection comes from a variety of sources, including auction houses, dealers, individual collectors, estates, and flea markets.
We look for both iconic timepieces and quirky/rare pieces which are less commonly known.
We wade through a lot of junk to find the best examples we can.
Originality is certainly important to us, but if something like a crystal or a bezel insert has been replaced or needs replacing (these are common wear items), we’re OK with that – and we always disclose that information to our clients.
For the most part, we want our watches to be worn and appreciated, so when necessary we need to do a little TLC both inside and out to make it possible to do so.
Have you ever received a piece that you wished you could snag before putting it on your website?
Pretty much every one!
I’d be lying if I said nothing we had purchased for the site hadn’t been re-routed to our personal collections… Our fundamental MO is to only offer pieces we would happily own ourselves – consider it an exercise in self control each time we pick up a new piece.
Do you wish you had a bagillion dollars so you could buy all the vintage timepieces out there? Or would you just pick a select few? Which would be your top 3? Would you buy new or would you look for a vintage piece?
I always wondered how to spell “bagillion” – now I know!
I am not sure I would want to buy them all, seeing as there is a lot of junk out there, but there certainly are a number I’m sure I couldn’t live without if money was no object.
I tell myself now that I need just FOUR to have a “perfect” collection of vintage sports watches, but somehow I already know that’s probably not going to do it. In any case, each of the four is an icon in horological history, and to me, those four are:
- Omega Speedmaster Calibre .321 from 1967. This is the exact model worn on the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission 2 years later. The Speedmaster is arguably the most important chronograph of all time, and this is the most collectable.
- Rolex Submariner 5512. The Rolex Submariner is the quintessential diver’s watch, and to me, this represents the perfect non-date version. The matte dial and COSC movement are the tops. Oh, and Steve McQueen had one.
- Heuer “Siffert” Autavia. My other passion is vintage automobiles, and to me this watch represents the best in the golden era of racing chronographs designed for drivers. The “Siffert” version is so-named as it found its way on to the wrist of legendary racing driver Jo Siffert. It featured a white dial (most Autavias had black dials) and is considerably more rare.
- Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Jumbo “A Series” from 1972. This is truly a piece you have to put on your wrist to fully appreciate. It represents the very first “Luxury-Sport” timepiece ever produced, and was styled by the great designer Gerald Genta. Its super thin movement and integrated bracelet are incredibly well designed, and wearing one makes me feel like Superman. Values on these have skyrocketed in the past few years, but I’m definitely on the hunt for a good original example.
There are very few modern pieces that blow up my skirt – and most of them are “homages” or “re-issues” of vintage pieces.
I guess I’m just stuck in the past! That said, I would definitely be inclined to look at some of the masterful haute horologie pieces coming from A. Lange & Söhn or F.P. Journe.
What is your favorite piece featured on Analog/Shift right now?
That’s definitely a tough one.
I think I’ll answer that in terms of rarity – both the 1967 DOXA Sub 300 and the Heuer Lemania 5100 Chronograph are incredibly rare finds in the condition they are in.
The DOXA is an important note in the history of modern diving watches, having several patents and the world’s first orange dial.
Our example is from the first year of production, and has some details not found on subsequent models. Plus its got its original bracelet – just killer.
The Heuer Lemania isn’t generally considered a rare piece per se, but ours is finished in its original Olive Green PVD finish, which was generally reserved for military issued watches, and I have never seen another in the flesh.
Furthermore, early PVD treatments weren’t the most robust, and most of the ones you find today are beat to shit. This one has been babied its whole life. It probably belongs in a museum. Really.
At ESM we’re all about men’s style. What’s your personal philosophy on style?
Timeless design appeals to me in everything I own or desire to own – I’m not interested in fads or trends.
I don’t purport to be a maven of men’s fashion, but I really appreciate a well-cut suit, a handmade tie, French cuffs…and a pair comfortable wingtips.
But like ESM, I feel that style is much more than fashion and is more of an overall lifestyle vibe – how you dress, what you drive, what you wear on your wrist…caring about all the details from socks to shaving cream to the single malt scotch in your hand…all of the things that come together to define how others see you.
But that’s not to say I create my style for the benefit of others- I do it for myself. Call it a quality of life thing.
What advice would you have for our readers who are vintage luxury watch virgins? What should they look for?
First and foremost, you should look for a reliable and knowledgable source.
Whether that means joining the growing online enthusiast community and hitting the forums, reading up on old auction catalogs, or building a relationship with a dealer you can come to know and trust.
Fear of being sold a fake watch is legitimate, and I think its the main reason people avoid vintage watches and go buy something new from an Authorized Dealer.
But the truth of the matter is that its actually very easy for a professional to spot the fakes.
Once you have someone (or some resource) you can trust on your side to help get over that hurdle, the fun part begins. Picking a watch that speaks to you individually is important.
Never let anyone tell you what you should wear.
Wristwatches are a very personal choice, and if you can, try one on before you buy. Often times the coolest looking watches don’t work once you have it strapped to your wrist, either because they are uncomfortable, or are just awkward looking for your wrist size.
If that’s not an option, at least buy from someone who has a warranty or inspection period so you can try it out before you’re totally committed.
A couple of other quick points:
You can’t wear box and papers – so don’t go crazy trying to find a watch with the full kit if you intend to wear it. Those are really only important for safe queens.
And finally – don’t get all worked up about whatever strap or bracelet comes on the watch. More often than I could ever imagine, I’ll hear something like, “I am looking for a nice wristwatch with a brown leather strap”.
Really?? Changing a bracelet or strap on your watch is like changing the rims on your car.
It’s no big deal, man!
We sell many of our watches with several strap options from Crown & Buckle (www.crownandbuckle.com), and switching them out to match or contrast with different apparel is easy.
To me the bottom line is that owning a vintage watch trumps wearing a new one every day of the week.
Wearing a piece of history with iconic design speaks volumes about your style and values. You really forge a relationship with your watch, much in the way that many of us do with our automobiles.
Vintage watches show you have an appreciation of history and a desire to be a caretaker of wonderful old things – and that never goes out of style.
What about the seasoned horologist, are there things on your site for them?
Absolutely! I think our collection speaks to virgins and veterans alike.
Unlike most watch dealers, we don’t constrain our collection to particular brands or price points, so as long as it is interesting and authentic, we will feature it – whether it is a $300 steel Seiko or a $10,000 White Gold Rolex.
Definitely something for everyone.
Furthermore, with our network of collectors and dealers, we have access to some pretty incredible stuff – so if it’s not on our site, we offer timepiece location services as well.
What are the future plans for Analog/Shift?
Our goal is to continue doing what we’re doing, and hopefully getting better at it as we go!
Finding awesome vintage and contemporary timepieces, curating them and offering them up for purchase, and building relationships.
We are certainly exploring some options for ramping it up and expanding a little bit here and there, but we have no aspirations to ever be the “biggest” vintage watch source on the market, it’s just not our gig.
We’re more interested in quality over quantity – and all three of us are passionate about vintage wristwatches and what we’re doing with analog/shift.
If this ever stops being fun, we’ll stop doing it.
For more information on Analog/Shift, you can check out their official website at http://www.analogshift.com/.